November 17, 2008

For a foreigner, the Rabin memorial ceremony seemed a bit like Woodstock. Something like that wouldn’t have been possible in my homeland of Germany.

For someone who does not understand any Hebrew and is in Israel for the first time, the memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin held in Tel Aviv recently seemed to me at the beginning to be a purely political event: Something which politicians use as a platform to express their opinions. So, I didn’t expect much.

But I was proved wrong.

As I was walking to the Rabin Square through Gordon Street I had to pass through several security control points manned by the police and army. I heard a helicopter hovering over me. They checked my bag, which felt strange, because although I have already been here a week, I’m still not used to it. And I am also not used to the guns. In Germany the police do not carry machine guns in public and the army is never present at such events, so the atmosphere is much less militaristic. But I do understand the necessity for it in Israel, or at least I accept it as necessary. I mean, I am just a foreigner here, what do I know?

As I reached the square I was astounded by the huge number of people who were standing there peacefully. Although I didn’t know what was written on the banners and the signs held by the crowd, I was encouraged by the number of young people around. I expected a mourning ceremony, not something like Woodstock. Well, of course it wasn’t Woodstock, nobody was naked or banging their heads to the music, but the general atmosphere and the feeling at the square seemed to be similar: A yearning for peace and for the world as a better place.

One banner, which I could read, said: “This is the time: Choose peace”. It was written by some American youngsters who joined a group of Israelis. They wore blue shirts and were part of a youth movement. They sang together the songs of freedom Israeli artists performed on the stage. And I thought how nice and warm it was – young people standing side by side is always the foundation for peace and understanding.

I asked the people around me to explain what the politicians were saying and what the songs were about. Nearly everyone in Israel speaks English; you must have a good education system!

One man on stage was the US Teamsters Union President James P. Hoffa, who brought greetings from the new US president-elect Barack Obama. It was okay, but his attempt to encourage the crowd to chant Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, we can”, was a bit over the top. This evening was not about Obama or about motivation for peace. I felt the people here were already very motivated.

I was especially moved by the song for peace, “Shir LaShalom”, and the national anthem, “Hatikva”. The people sang together, something which rarely ever happens in Germany. The people in my country seem to be too reserved for such a thing and they have also had bad experience with mass events and chanting and singing crowds. We are more a society of individuals, but we long for something like what was going on at Rabin Square. Maybe this is one reason why the Germans were so hyped up about the FIFA-World Cup 2006, which was held there. They could celebrate and sing their national anthem without feeling guilty. It was just sports, not politics.

As the Rabin memorial was over the organizers played “Imagine” by John Lennon in the background, and I became a part of the people around me. I know this song and I joined the singing people while they were already leaving the place. I sang phrases like “Imagine all the people, living in a world of peace,” and went home humming the melody.

Reprinted with permission from YnetNews (

More on Blog

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: